Noel and Nancy Summers

Noel and Nancy Summers check the well at the farm in Franklin County in southern Illinois where Noel grew up.

AKIN, Ill. — The water well on the Franklin County farm on which Noel Summers grew up was dug by hand, probably more than a century ago. The water was never tested until this year.

And although coliform was detected in a faucet sample taken recently, there was a lack of other contaminants.

The laboratory doing the testing reported the sample contained no detectable levels of arsenic, mercury, E. coli or nitrates.

“That is surprising,” Summers said about the lack of nitrates.

Most indicators of the sample are in the normal range. The pH and alkalinity are acceptable. The laboratory tested for other inorganics, including, lead, cadmium, cobalt and other metals, and none was detected. Trace amounts of potassium, aluminum, barium, boron and iron were detected, but all were well within acceptable levels.

The testing procedure shows only the presence of bacteria such as E. coli and coliform. Coliform bacteria are commonly found in plants and soil, but also live in the fecal waste of humans and other animals.

Summers is considering shock chlorinating the well to rid the water of the pollution.

The well does not have a sealed cap, but other factors may contribute to the lack of some contaminants. The well is deep — as much as 28 feet. And it may be fed by a stream. Summers remembers when he was young and the family had some hogs. His father left the water on them while the family went shopping out of town.

When they got back, there was water in the road. They assumed the pump had emptied the well.

“Dad said ‘now is a good time to clean the well out,’” Summers recalled. “He left the pump running, then borrowed another pump from a neighbor. We finally shut it off, but it couldn’t get dry. It ran six to eight hours. It never ran dry, and has never run dry since.”

The well has certainly served its purpose over the years, but Summers wonders if its days are numbered. A coal mine in the area is in the process of sinking a new shaft, which may run under the property. Modern mining methods can result in sudden subsidence in an area.

“When the mine runs under it, it may ruin it,” he said.

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Nat Williams is Southern Illinois field editor, writing for Illinois Farmer Today, Iowa Farmer Today and Missouri Farmer Today.